When Paul Maxwell is bartending, it never fails to surprise customers that the 24-year-old has much more responsibility than mixing cocktails.
Last year, he traded in jockeying for junior positions for being his own boss, and opened Maxwell's Music House in Waterloo, Ont.
"Every once in a while someone will say, 'So, who owns this place?' And I'll be standing behind the bar and I say, 'Me,' and they're like, 'No way!"' Mr. Maxwell says. "It's kind of fun just to hear people's reactions."
Joining the ranks of entrepreneurship is a commitment that takes a lot of hard work, but it's a viable option for young people faced with limited work options in an unfriendly economy, says one business expert.
"The economy is slowing down and people are seeing opportunities to get into the market at a time when it is a lull," says Vivian Prokop, CEO of the Canadian Youth Business Federation, a charity offering mentors and loans up to $15,000 with no collateral to would-be entrepreneurs 18 to 34.
Under a recent partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada, applicants can also qualify for an extra $15,000.
"The good news about young entrepreneurs is they tend to be more apt to take risk because they don't potentially have the mortgage, and all those material things," Ms. Prokop adds.
"They have that freshness and ability to go out there and take some risk and just do it."
Maxwell's Music House offers music lessons, provides bands with a rehearsal space and holds concerts during weeknights.
It seems like every young guy's dream: live music, a place to jam and a liquor licence.
But making the business a reality wasn't as easy as dreaming it up, says Mr. Maxwell, who works about 70 hours a week doing everything from booking bands to answering the phone.
"The hardest thing was to convince people that you're serious and that you're not just talking about things and that you want to take action," says Mr. Maxwell, who sought financing from a number of areas, including business competitions and the CYBF.
"There were a lot of challenges. Just overcoming that misconception that you need to be older and well-established to start a business."
About an hour's drive away in Hamilton, 19-year-old Chantelle Kempijan is fresh off a vacation in Florida and back at keeping the books at NDulgence Salon and Spa, which she opened last April.
A high school graduate, Ms. Kempijan doesn't have any post-secondary training in business, but she learned all she needs to know while working as a teenager at a salon her mom used to own.
After that salon shut down, she opened her own spot and hired many of her mother's former employees. "It was a little bit weird when I first started, I was worried they wouldn't take me seriously," says Ms. Kempijan, who laughs and admits she looks "about 13."
But as a new entrepreneur, she was faced with another, more obvious hurdle: getting money.
"It was very difficult. Obviously, no one wanted to give me a loan because I was only 18. I didn't have much credit. I had a Visa, but it wasn't enough," says Ms. Kempijan, who eventually contacted the CYBF and obtained a private loan to make up the nearly $90,000 she needed to get started.
That's often the challenge, says Ms. Prokop. Some home-based businesses can be started on as little as $15,000. Others require deeper pockets.
"Getting that critical start-up funding is difficult in a normal economy. In a retracted economy, it's so much more difficult."
Ms. Prokop has several suggestions for future bosses:
- Seek out programs that offer startup loans. In its most recent budget, the federal government included a $10 million grant to the CYBF, which the federation expects will help launch 800 new businesses within five years.
- Take the time to do market research and ensure there's a demand for whatever you're selling.
- Draw up a detailed business plan.
- Get in contact with an experienced entrepreneur who can act as a mentor. Soak up as much advice and information as possible.
- Have the ambition to go for it.
After graduating in 2007 from the University of Saskatchewan, Dan Robinson and Chad Fischl went as far as Korea to see if a business project involving stinky hockey gear could become something profitable.
Mr. Robinson, 24, and Mr. Fischl, 25 - both athletes - wanted to sell products that could eliminate odour. They discovered a Korean manufacturer who made products containing nano silver, which is used in some facial cleansers to kill bacteria.
"There was a need for this in Canada and we just decided to make it our full-time job," says Mr. Robinson, who travels across the country promoting the business.
After securing financing from the CYBF, the duo started Shutout Solutions Inc., which now has its name on athletic sprays, detergent and body and hair wash that's sold in some 90 stores across Canada.
"It can be a bit stressful sometimes making sure you're making the right decisions," says Robinson.
"There's going to be some trial and error, there's going to be some small failures, but they're just steps to making it to our final goal."